Global Terrorism Index 2020

Measuring the Impact of Terrorism

The report provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 50 years, placing a special emphasis on trends over the past decade. This period corresponds with the rise and fall of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Key Findings:


  • Deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 to 13,826 deaths, representing a 15 per cent decrease from the prior year.

  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Russia and Eurasia, South America and South Asia regions all recorded falls in deaths from terrorism of at least 20 per cent.

  • Although terrorism has fallen in most regions, it has become more widespread in others. Seven of the ten countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Burkina Faso had the largest increase in terrorism, where deaths increased by 590 per cent to 593. This was followed by Sri Lanka where terrorism deaths increased from one in 2018 to 266 in 2019.

  • Afghanistan remains the country with the highest impact from terrorism. However, terrorism deaths in the country declined in 2019 for the first time in three years.

  • The Taliban remained the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2019. However, terrorist deaths attributed to the group declined by 18 per cent to 4,990. Whether the peace talks in Afghanistan have a substantial impact on terrorist activity remains to be seen.

Economic Impact Of Terrorism

  • The global economic impact of terrorism in 2019 amounted to US$26.4 billion, a fall of 25 per cent from 2018. This was mainly driven by a fall in terrorism deaths in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • The economic impact of terrorism has fallen each year for the last five years. It is now 77 per cent lower than at its peak in 2014.

  • Afghanistan was the country with the highest economic impact, equivalent to 16.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

  • Nine of the ten countries with the highest economic impact of terrorism suffer from ongoing conflict. j Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the highest regional economic impact, at US$12.5 and US$5.6 billion, respectively.

  • North America had the largest regional percentage increase in its economic impact, increasing by 44.9 per cent from the previous year, owing largely to an increase in far-right terrorism.

Trends In Terrorism

  • Deaths from terrorism are now 59 per cent lower than their peak in 2014. The fall in deaths has been largest in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria.

  • The overall fall in deaths from terrorism has also led to a reduction in the number of countries experiencing deaths from terrorism. In 2019, 63 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism, the lowest number since 2013.

  • The impact of terrorism lessened in seven of the nine regions of the world in 2019.

  • South Asia recorded the largest deterioration, followed by Central America and the Caribbean. However, Central America and the Caribbean remains the region with the lowest impact of terrorism, a position it has held for the past 17 years.

  • MENA recorded the largest regional improvement for the second consecutive year. Deaths in MENA have fallen by 87 per cent since 2016, reaching the lowest level since 2003.

  • More recently, terrorist activity has been concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with both regions having recorded more terrorism deaths than MENA since 2018.

The Shifting Landscape

  • As the level of terrorist activity continues to fall in the Middle East and South Asia, new terrorist threats are beginning to emerge. The most prominent of these are the spread of ISIL affiliate groups in sub-Saharan Africa, and the emergence of far-right terrorism in Western Europe and North America.

  • ISIL’s global reach has steadily expanded with ISILrelated attacks recorded across seven regions: AsiaPacific, Europe, MENA, North America, Russia and Eurasia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Outside of Iraq and Syria, ISIL-affiliated groups and individuals have perpetrated over 3,000 attacks in 48 countries since 2013.

  • The number of countries recording an ISIL-related attack increased from two in 2013, to 27 in 2019. j In the West, ISIL directed or inspired at least 78 terror attacks between 2014 and 2019, resulting in 471 fatalities. France recorded the most ISIL-related terrorism deaths, followed by the United States and Belgium. However, there was only one attack recorded in the West in 2019. j

  • Forty-one per cent of total ISIL-related attacks in 2019 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the shift in ISIL-related attacks away from the Middle East. j Far-right terrorism has increased substantially in the West. There was one recorded far-right terrorist attack in 2010, this had increased to 49 in 2019.

Systems And Terrorism

  • There are many factors that are associated with increased levels of terrorism. High levels of group grievance and weak rule of law are correlated with terrorism across all countries.

  • The socio-economic factors linked with terrorism in more economically developed countries mostly reflect social disenfranchisement and exclusion.

  • Among developing nations, terrorism is associated with religious or ethnic ruptures and corruption.

  • Social systems are vulnerable to shocks. A large scale terrorist attack is a shock that can change a system in long-lasting and often unexpected ways.

  • The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 triggered profound changes in the US social and governance systems that have persevered for almost two decades.

  • Following these attacks, indicators of perceived human rights protections, rule of law, media monitoring and regulation and judicial review and oversight deteriorated markedly.

  • Influence over society and its governance is the most important factor that determines the size, longevity, and success of a terrorist group. Programs and policies that reduce the influence of groups will have the most power to disrupt terror networks.

  • In order to disrupt recruitment by terrorist groups, nations need to address both recruitment methods and motivation.

  • To address the motivations to join a terrorist group, both social and economic inclusion need to be promoted.

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